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How Is Fault Determined in a Car Accident?

Posted on May 1, 2024 in

Determining fault for your car accident is an important step toward recovering compensation for your serious injuries, medical bills, lost income, and property repairs. In Arizona, if you didn’t cause the crash, you are not financially responsible for related damage. 

Before you can recover a monetary award, you or your Scottsdale car accident lawyer must determine and prove someone else’s fault. Learn how fault is determined in a car accident to understand what to expect from your case.

how is fault determined in a car accident

Arizona is an “At-Fault” State for Car Accident Insurance

Unlike “no-fault states,” Arizona law determines that the at-fault driver––and by proxy, that driver’s liability insurance coverage and collision coverage—will be responsible for paying for the harm caused to others that the accident caused.

What this means to you is that if you are involved in a car accident in Arizona and want to make an insurance claim or file a lawsuit against other drivers, then you can expect the car insurance companies for everyone involved and your own insurance company to carefully scrutinize the facts of the accident scene to assess who was at fault for the accident, and why.

The conclusions of the adjuster will affect whether or not you have to file a lawsuit to collect for your losses. Ultimately, either a jury, judge or arbitrator will decide who is at fault. The adjuster’s opinion on the matter is immaterial to how the case turns out, but is material for what you will have to do to get what’s coming to you.

Arizona is a Comparative Negligence State for Car Accident Lawsuits

Under Arizona law, fault is assigned on a comparative negligence basis. What this means to you is that deciding fault in an Arizona car accident involves two steps:

  1. Deciding who was at fault to any degree; then,
  2. Deciding among those at fault how much at fault they were.

A jury (or the judge in a bench trial without a jury) measures comparative negligence by the percentage share of fault for each party, with the combined total being 100 percent. So, for example, if you were involved in a car accident in which you are held just one percent at fault, then your personal injury lawsuit recovery would be reduced by that one percent.

What this further means to you is that, because Arizona is an at-fault state for car insurance lawsuits and a comparative negligence state for damages recovery, insurance companies and insurance lawyers can become aggressive in probing you for even the slightest degree of blame for a car accident you are involved in. 

Two points to keep in mind about automobile insurance in Arizona are

  • Collision insurance coverage will pay to repair damage to your vehicle, regardless of fault, but will not pay for damage to other people’s vehicles.
  • Liability insurance coverage will pay for bodily injury and property damage to others.

If you have a car accident personal injury attorney on your side, then those lawyers cannot approach you directly and must go through us instead.

Factors to Identify Fault for an Accident

An experienced car accident lawyer knows that the search for the cause of a motor vehicle accident requires answering both who and what contributed to it and where the accident happened. 

Sometimes, like with a simple parking lot “fender bender” between a parked car and a moving one, identifying all the considerations involved is relatively easy and can be done at the accident scene.

On other occasions, especially when there are more than two drivers and vehicles involved, finding all the potentially at-fault parties can require a more thorough examination of the facts of the accident.

Below, we consider some of the factors that our traffic accident attorneys at Stone Rose Law look into when representing our clients.

Physical Evidence Evaluation

Evidence refers to information or facts that help determine whether a belief is true. During a car accident case, the burden of proof is a preponderance of the evidence.

To prevail in a personal injury lawsuit based on a traffic accident, you must be able to persuade the “trier of fact”—usually a jury—that it is more likely than not that the person or people you are suing were to blame for your injuries and property damage.

Meeting your evidentiary burden requires careful evaluation and collection of key evidence. In a car accident case, this often includes:

  • Police accident reports
  • Citations
  • Eyewitness statements
  • Photographs
  • Surveillance footage
  • Cell phone records
  • Medical records
  • Testimony from experts
evidence in a car accident case

Evaluating all of the evidence available can help an insurance company, judge, or jury determine who is to blame for the crash and how much they were to blame.

Note that a police report alone does not determine fault. 

Law enforcement does not have the power to assign civil liability for a car accident. Instead, the police accident report will contain the officer’s opinion as to who or what caused the crash. This can serve as evidence during a car accident claim but is not a confirmation of fault alone.

Also, in some situations, a traffic accident that leads to a personal injury lawsuit can also lead to criminal prosecutions in some cases, such as for violation of traffic laws. Convictions for such violations in connection with your accident can serve as evidence in establishing fault.

Traffic Laws

For the most part, any driver who violates a traffic law will be held responsible for a related car accident. Common traffic infractions include speeding, texting while driving, running a red light, making an unsafe lane change, failing to yield the right-of-way, and driving under the influence.

If there is proof, such as a citation from law enforcement that one of the drivers involved in the car accident broke a traffic law, this can be enough to establish that it is the driver’s fault for the collision.

Location of Car Damage

Crash reconstruction based on vehicle damage can prove mistakes that cause car accidents, such as tailgating and distracted driving. A careful examination of both damaged motor vehicles can help determine fault for a car accident. Where the cars are damaged can show where they collided, piecing together an account as to how the crash happened and which driver might be at fault.

For example, damage to the broadside of Car A and the front of Car B can support the explanation for the accident that Car B ran a red light and crashed into the side of Car A, thereby placing fault with the driver of Car B.

Damage location analysis often requires the help of an expert to establish it as evidence. A crash reconstruction expert can carefully examine the damage to both vehicles to reconstruct how the collision must have happened to cause the type, extent, and location of the damage.

From there, the reconstruction expert can provide a professional, expert opinion of fault based on which driver was in the wrong.

Third-Party Liability

Car accidents can have multiple causes, and not all of them are because of other drivers. Other individuals, companies, and even government agencies can contribute to the facts and circumstances that lead to a car accident.

For example, what if you are driving when a pedestrian suddenly jaywalks in front of you? You swerve to avoid hitting the pedestrian, but strike another vehicle when you do. The pedestrian in this case could be at least partly involved in causing the accident and thus be a responsible third party to that extent.

Or, consider a case in which the manufacturer of a vehicle involved in the crash made the vehicle with defective brakes, and that defect contributed to that car’s inability to stop in time, which led to the collision. Based on product liability, the car manufacturer and everyone who sold the vehicle might be held at least partly at fault.

Or, what if the other driver involved in a vehicle collision with you was driving a company vehicle, and that vehicle was not properly maintained by the company that owns it? If that lack of proper maintenance played any role in leading to the accident, then the company employer of the vehicle’s driver under an agency theory of law known as respondeat superior.

Or, think of a situation in which a municipal or county government did not keep the road you were traveling on properly maintained, and poor road conditions were a factor in causing the accident. Here, the government itself could be an at-fault party as well.

Finding all the potential third parties who may be liable for a motor vehicle collision is important to you in three ways.

  • First, you only have a limited time in which to file a claim, counterclaim, or cross-claim against other people who were involved in or contributed to the accident. So it is best to start looking for possibly liable third parties for your personal injuries, medical expenses, and lost wages right away.
  • Second, if you are the plaintiff in a personal injury lawsuit, having more defendants to assign liability to means a better chance of recovery of money damages than if there is only one defendant.
  • Third, if someone is suing you for personal injury because of a car crash, then having more potential co-defendants means that if any liability attaches to you, they might also be at least partly liable and can contribute to the plaintiff’s damages award.

Admitting Fault for an Accident

The easiest way to prove fault for an accident of any kind is for the other party to admit fault for it. 

Car accident attorneys know this, as do auto insurance company lawyers. These attorneys and lawyers who represent other people will be looking for ways to get you to admit to any amount of blame for the accident, no matter how slight.

Remember, even one percent contributory negligence can reduce your damages award.

When a lawyer is soliciting you for an admission against your own interest, like accepting blame for part or all of an accident, that person may not try to get that admission directly. He or she may ask you several questions, during which you might make an inadvertent admission of fault.

Attorneys for the other parties in an accident have a legal duty to zealously represent their clients. That duty includes shifting the blame for an accident as much as possible onto others where it more properly belongs. Having an experienced Arizona traffic accident lawyer to zealously represent you can help protect you from other lawyers who will try to get you to say something to harm your own legal interests.

Call Stone Rose Law Today

Our Phoenix auto accident attorneys at Stone Rose Law proudly serve car accident clients throughout Arizona. We do everything in our power to ensure you obtain the compensation you deserve through insurance claims or through a personal injury lawsuit.

Reach out to us online or call (480) 498-8998 to schedule your free consultation to discuss your car accident case with a qualified car accident lawyer..

  • If you have become one of the thousands of Arizona drivers involved in an auto accident that has caused you bodily injuries or property damage, and you want to receive the best possible legal representation from an experienced Arizona personal injury law firm, call us.
  • If your insurance company has denied your policy claim after you are in a car accident, call us.
  • If you are unsure of what to do after getting into a car accident and have a question about your legal rights in a personal injury case, call us.

Do you prefer to communicate with us online? You can reach us here to schedule a free initial consultation, or to ask a question to one of our dedicated Phoenix car accident lawyers.

Remember, the Arizona statute of limitations for personal injury car accidents is only two years, and your insurance company might give you even less time to make a policy claim. Call us today.